Review: Dark Age (Red Rising Saga #5) by Pierce Brown

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Synopsis from Goodreads:

For a decade Darrow led a revolution against the corrupt color-coded Society. Now, outlawed by the very Republic he founded, he wages a rogue war on Mercury in hopes that he can still salvage the dream of Eo. But as he leaves death and destruction in his wake, is he still the hero who broke the chains? Or will another legend rise to take his place?

Lysander au Lune, the heir in exile, has returned to the Core. Determined to bring peace back to mankind at the edge of his sword, he must overcome or unite the treacherous Gold families of the Core and face down Darrow over the skies of war-torn Mercury.

But theirs are not the only fates hanging in the balance.

On Luna, Mustang, Sovereign of the Republic, campaigns to unite the Republic behind her husband. Beset by political and criminal enemies, can she outwit her opponents in time to save him?

Once a Red refugee, young Lyria now stands accused of treason, and her only hope is a desperate escape with unlikely new allies.

Abducted by a new threat to the Republic, Pax and Electra, the children of Darrow and Sevro, must trust in Ephraim, a thief, for their salvation—and Ephraim must look to them for his chance at redemption.

As alliances shift, break, and re-form—and power is seized, lost, and reclaimed—every player is at risk in a game of conquest that could turn the Rising into a new Dark Age.

The #1 New York Times bestselling author of Morning Star returns to the Red Rising universe with the thrilling sequel to Iron Gold.

You all know that the Red Rising series is one of my all-time favorites. Dark Age was easily my most anticipated book of 2019. The publishing date got pushed back twice, to almost a year after it was originally set, which just stoked the anticipation. It was definitely worth the wait.

-This book is long. It’s well over 700 pages and took me a week to read. There were a few plotlines that didn’t seem all that necessary and could’ve been cut to make the length a little less intimidating. However, once I reached the end of the book I really wished that there was more! I’m feeling a little adrift now that it’s over and am thinking about re-reading the other books so I don’t have to leave this world.

-In the previous book I had some issues with the multiple POVs. After three books of just Darrow, I wasn’t thrilled whenever the POV shifted away from him. I’m happy to say that I did not mind it near as much in this installment. While I’ll always want as much Darrow as possible, I enjoyed most of the other points of view, as well. I still didn’t love Lyria (or some of the weird stuff that went on with her), but I really liked Ephraim this time around. I enjoyed his chapters and loved seeing him interact with Darrow’s son, Pax. I really adored Pax, though I thought he was a little too mature for an eleven year old (I guess maybe that’s to be expected from a Gold, though?). I was a little wary of the inclusion of Virginia’s POV, but I ended up appreciating it.

-Another complaint I had with the last book was that it was a lot more world building than I expected or wanted. Thankfully, this book really picked up the action. Part 1 of the book was crazy intense and brutal. It honestly felt like it could have been it’s own book.

-This book was much darker than the others were. The series has always been violent, but this one seemed even more so. There’s also a lot of mention of rape (though no actual scenes of it).

-There was not nearly enough Sevro! He doesn’t show up until we’re more than 200 pages in and he doesn’t get a lot of page time. I am hoping for some amazing things with him in the next book to make up for it.

-There are some very disheartening character deaths. I know I should expect it in these books, as Pierce Brown has broken my heart on many occasions, but there were still two I took very hard, as well as several others that just added salt to the wounds.

-There was a resurgence of more than one past character that we were supposed to believe were long gone. I loved both of these developments, even though I saw one coming since the last book.

Overall, Dark Age was another great installment of the Red Rising series. Pierce Brown is a bloodydamn maniac that takes us on quite an adventure and I can’t wait to see what happens next!

Overall Rating (out of 5): 4 Stars

Review: The Similars (The Similars #1) by Rebecca Hanover

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Synopsis from Goodreads:

When six clones join Emmaline’s prestigious boarding school, she must confront the heartbreak of seeing her dead best friend’s face each day in class.

The Similars are all anyone can talk about at the elite Darkwood Academy. Who are these six clones? What are the odds that all of them would be Darkwood students? Who is the madman who broke the law to create them? Emma couldn’t care less. Her best friend, Oliver, died over the summer and all she can think about is how to get through her junior year without him. Then she comes face-to-heartbreaking-face with Levi—Oliver’s exact DNA replica and one of the Similars.

Emma wants nothing to do with the Similars, but she keeps getting pulled deeper and deeper into their clique, uncovering dark truths about the clones and her prestigious school along the way. But no one can be trusted…not even the boy she is falling for who has Oliver’s face.

I received a copy of this title via NetGalley. It does not impact my review.

The Similars will be available January 1, 2019. 

I thought that the concept for The Similars had potential. Unfortunately, it failed to live up to it for me.

I think the idea of cloning is very interesting. It brings up so many ethical questions. Some of those issues were brought up in the course of the book, however I didn’t think it was handled well. Instead of actual discussions and honest questions, it was treated like so many hot button topics are these days: with the two sides yelling their opinions at each other and not having an open mind about it at all. I get enough of this in real life, I don’t really want it in my entertainment. The author also tried to draw parallels between cloning and illegal immigration that I felt was a bit of a stretch.

I didn’t really love any of the characters. The story is told through Emma’s first person POV, so I felt like I got to know her pretty well, but character development was really lacking for everyone else. Emma was likable most of the time, though. The Similars are easily the most interesting characters of the book, but only a little bit of time is spent getting to know any of them. I didn’t really get on board the romance. Even though it was obvious what was going to happen, I still felt like it just kind of happened out of the blue.

There are two reveals towards the end of the book that I felt were supposed to be twists, but they were both things I suspected pretty early on in the story. Even though they didn’t surprise me at all, I think they have potential to provide some interesting paths in the coming books.

Overall, The Similars was just not for me. Despite an intriguing premise, the lack of character development, somewhat messy writing, and forced political overtones made this a book I was just getting through, rather than enjoying. As of right now, I’m not interested in continuing the series. I am by no means the target audience for this book, though, so those that are may find this a much better read than I did.

Overall Rating (out of 5): 2 Stars

Review: The Book of M by Peng Shepherd

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Synopsis from Good Reads:

Set in a dangerous near future world, The Book of M tells the captivating story of a group of ordinary people caught in an extraordinary catastrophe who risk everything to save the ones they love. It is a sweeping debut that illuminates the power that memories have not only on the heart, but on the world itself.

One afternoon at an outdoor market in India, a man’s shadow disappears—an occurrence science cannot explain. He is only the first. The phenomenon spreads like a plague, and while those afflicted gain a strange new power, it comes at a horrible price: the loss of all their memories.

Ory and his wife Max have escaped the Forgetting so far by hiding in an abandoned hotel deep in the woods. Their new life feels almost normal, until one day Max’s shadow disappears too.

Knowing that the more she forgets, the more dangerous she will become to Ory, Max runs away. But Ory refuses to give up the time they have left together. Desperate to find Max before her memory disappears completely, he follows her trail across a perilous, unrecognizable world, braving the threat of roaming bandits, the call to a new war being waged on the ruins of the capital, and the rise of a sinister cult that worships the shadowless.

As they journey, each searches for answers: for Ory, about love, about survival, about hope; and for Max, about a new force growing in the south that may hold the cure.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher. It does not impact my review. 

The Book of M will be available June 5, 2018. 

The Book of M is certainly an ambitious debut. Covering multiple characters, countries, and time in painstaking detail, it explores a new dystopian world where the loss of memories results in dangerous magic.

While I did like the book, I wanted to like it more than I actually did. The pace is pretty slow as the world building is established and it took me awhile to really get into the story. The writing was very detailed and I personally would have appreciated a little less. I thought it made the book much longer than it needed to be. However, it was pretty character-driven and I did feel like I got to know the main characters pretty well.

The story is told in the POV of Ory, Max, Naz, and The One Who Gathers. Ory and Max are married and when Max loses her shadow she decides to leave Ory so she won’t accidentally hurt him. She comes across a group of other Shadowless heading to New Orleans and joins them. Ory is desperate to find her and along the way comes across a group of other Shadowed, including Naz, a former Olympic hopeful in archery who now helps lead the soldiers of her group. Both groups are trying to find out if the rumors they’ve heard about New Orleans are true. The One Who Gathers was once just a man with retrograde amnesia who became connected with the first man to lose his shadow and his memories, but has become something incredibly different. I did think all the POVs were well done. I liked all of the characters, but I never really fell in love with any of them, which made it kind of difficult to really care about what happened to them.

Overall, I enjoyed The Book of M, but I didn’t love it. I liked the characters and how they all became connected. However, I thought the plot was a little drawn out and felt the emotional impact I was supposed to experience missed the mark a bit. While this dystopian tale may not be for me, I think there will be a lot of people that will really like it. I recommend it if you enjoy character-driven novels with a touch of magical realism. I do look forward to seeing what Peng Shepherd writes next.

Overall Rating (out of 5): 3 Stars

Review: Brightly Burning by Alexa Donne

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Synopsis from Good Reads:

Seventeen-year-old Stella Ainsley wants just one thing: to go somewhere—anywhere—else. Her home is a floundering spaceship that offers few prospects, having been orbiting an ice-encased Earth for two hundred years. When a private ship hires her as a governess, Stella jumps at the chance. The captain of the Rochester, nineteen-year-old Hugo Fairfax, is notorious throughout the fleet for being a moody recluse and a drunk. But with Stella he’s kind.

But the Rochester harbors secrets: Stella is certain someone is trying to kill Hugo, and the more she discovers, the more questions she has about his role in a conspiracy threatening the fleet.

As soon as I saw this book referred to as “Jane Eyre in space” I knew that I had to read it. While it wasn’t quite all I hoped for, I think overall it was a fun re-telling and it made me want to go re-read Jane Eyre.

It took me awhile to get into Brightly Burning. I thought it was a little slow to start, but once Stella got to the Rochester and the Jane Eyre comparisons became apparent I really began to enjoy it. While there were obviously some adjustments made to some of the twists, I thought they were incorporated really well for both YA and space. I thought it dragged a bit when it focused on the non-Jane Eyre plotlines, though. So while the beginning and the end were not great for me, I really enjoyed the middle.  I also thought it was a little weird that they were in the future and had all this technology, but high society followed Regency era clothing and social statuses.

I liked the characters. Though I think Stella’s character was a little inconsistent at times, she was likeable and I enjoyed getting the story through her 1st person POV. I also liked Hugo and shipped him with Stella. I also really liked Stella’s weird-admirer-turned-closest-friend Jon. There were a wide array of secondary characters that I thought were pretty well developed, as well.

Overall, I enjoyed Brightly Burning. I thought it worked really well as a Jane Eyre re-telling and I really enjoyed all those parts of the book and the new spin of it happening in space. It did drag a little at the beginning and end for me, though, so I can’t quite give it 4 stars. I do definitely recommend this to anyone who’s read and enjoyed Jane Eyre, though.

Overall Rating (out of 5): 3.5 Stars

Review: Iron Gold (Red Rising #4) by Pierce Brown

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Synopsis from Good Reads:

They call him father, liberator, warlord, Reaper. But he feels a boy as he falls toward the pale blue planet, his armor red, his army vast, his heart heavy. It is the tenth year of war and the thirty-second of his life.

A decade ago, Darrow was the hero of the revolution he believed would break the chains of the Society. But the Rising has shattered everything: Instead of peace and freedom, it has brought endless war. Now he must risk everything he has fought for on one last desperate mission. Darrow still believes he can save everyone, but can he save himself?

And throughout the worlds, other destinies entwine with Darrow’s to change his fate forever:

A young Red girl flees tragedy in her refugee camp and achieves for herself a new life she could never have imagined.

An ex-soldier broken by grief is forced to steal the most valuable thing in the galaxy—or pay with his life.

And Lysander au Lune, the heir in exile to the sovereign, wanders the stars with his mentor, Cassius, haunted by the loss of the world that Darrow transformed, and dreaming of what will rise from its ashes.

Red Rising was the story of the end of one universe, and Iron Gold is the story of the creation of a new one. Witness the beginning of a stunning new saga of tragedy and triumph from masterly New York Times bestselling author Pierce Brown.

*This review may contain some mild spoilers from Books 1-3 of the series. No spoilers for Iron Gold.*

Other books in the series:

Red Rising

Golden Son

Morning Star

So, Stephanie, you just finished your most anticipated book of the year (of ever, really). Now how about you write a halfway coherent review? Yeah, right. I really wish I could do that, but my thoughts are everywhere on this, so I’m going the list route.

The Writing. Pierce Brown is just a beautiful writer. His style, pacing, imagery, emotion. Even the violent scenes. Even the sometimes adolescent humor among the Howlers. Even the small, seemingly insignificant moments. If Pierce Brown writes it, I want to read it.

World building. Who knew there would be so much more world building to do in the 4th book of a series!? The story begins about 10 years after the last book ends (side note: I really should’ve done my series re-read before starting this. I was thinking Darrow was late 20s when Morning Star ended, not early 20s) and it is a whole new world. There was no Happily Ever After when Darrow and company “won.” The fight was not over and the government is far from stable. While I appreciate the need for the world building, it did slow things down a bit, plot-wise, when I was itching to just get going

POVs. Unlike the original trilogy, which was told completely in Darrow’s 1st person POV, Iron Gold is told through multiple 1st person POV. Besides Darrow, there are chapters from Lysander, all grown up and as Gold-arrogant as ever, Lyria, a Red who has lost most of her family and gets the opportunity to move to Luna and cross paths with those in charge, and Ephraim, who is connected to a character that had a small, but vital, role in Darrow’s history. It pains me to say that I didn’t love all the POVs. I think the problem lies with Darrow still being a major player. If this was a true companion series then it would make sense for Darrow to have more of a cameo role while new characters take the lead. But since this is more a continuation to the series, Darrow still has a big part to play and all I wanted was him. I was disappointed every time the POV changed away from him. I could not make myself really care that much about Lyria or Ephraim. I was ok with Lysander’s POV, but mostly because he was with Cassius. I also thought what was happening in his chapters are really important to the future books, whereas Lyria or Ephraim could have had much smaller roles and still had the same impact to the overall plot. So, Darrow’s POV was by far my favorite, but including it kind of made the rest feel a little lacking.

The Characters. Sevro, my little Goblin! How I have missed you! I loved seeing him and Darrow together again so much! And they’re fathers now! They’re relationship did hit some rough spots throughout the book, but they’ve been there before and I know they will get through it. I also enjoyed seeing Victra, Mustang, the Telemanuses, Cassius, and some of the original Howlers again. As for the new characters, I liked Lorn’s grandson, Alexander, “Tongueless” a new Obsidian Darrow and Sevro befriend, and Volga, Ephraim’s partner in crime, but I could take or leave the rest. Again, I think I may have liked the new characters more if there were not so much of the original ones. But I will never be upset about getting more of the original characters. 

Darrow. I’ve read several reviews where people were pretty annoyed with Darrow in this book. While I can see their point, I don’t think it’s really a valid argument. Listening to other people’s opinions/orders and then doing whatever he bloodydamn wants is kind of his thing. To be fair, that often works out in his favor. I say let Darrow be Darrow. Plus, he has two books to grow his character. A perfect Darrow this early in the game would make for a boring continuation of the series.

Plot Development. I’m not going to rehash the whole plot, because ya’ll can read the synopsis. I feel like the plot development was very similar to the first book in the series. A lot of set up and character development. Unlike the previous books, though, there weren’t many of the small twists and surprises that I have come to expect. While it’s not super predictable, I did not find myself really surprised by anything that happened. I will say there is one death that I did not think would happen, but I am not 100% convinced that the character is really dead. *Crossing my fingers the character reappears in book 5.* From other reviews I skimmed before reading this I was expecting a big cliffhanger ending and I guess there kind of was in a couple of the POVs (it was not until writing this sentence that I even remembered there were, which tells you that I did not find them very impactful). The last chapter in Darrow’s POV did not have one. However, I absolutely loved the last sentence of the book. It made me so excited for what’s to come!

Overall, I enjoyed Iron Gold. I have been waiting for this book for so long and am so glad I finally got to read it. While it was maybe not all that I hoped it would be, it was a well written continuation of the series and I am counting down the days to Dark Age.

Overall Rating (out of 5): 4 Stars

Review: A Thousand Pieces of You (Firebird #1) by Claudia Gray

A Thousand Pieces of You (Firebird, #1)

Synopsis from Good Reads:

Marguerite Caine’s physicist parents are known for their radical scientific achievements. Their most astonishing invention: the Firebird, which allows users to jump into parallel universes, some vastly altered from our own. But when Marguerite’s father is murdered, the killer—her parent’s handsome and enigmatic assistant Paul—escapes into another dimension before the law can touch him.

Marguerite can’t let the man who destroyed her family go free, and she races after Paul through different universes, where their lives entangle in increasingly familiar ways. With each encounter she begins to question Paul’s guilt—and her own heart. Soon she discovers the truth behind her father’s death is more sinister than she ever could have imagined.

A Thousand Pieces of You explores a reality where we witness the countless other lives we might lead in an amazingly intricate multiverse, and ask whether, amid infinite possibilities, one love can endure.

You know when you read a book just because of it’s pretty cover, things don’t always turn out the way you want them to. However, since A Thousand Pieces of You has had such a waiting list at the library, I’ve had plenty of time to read other reviews before I got into it. While I mostly skimmed them to avoid any possible spoilers, one thing I picked up on was that there was way more romance in this than people expected. That didn’t really put me off it, I just decided to go into it expecting a YA romance.

However, it didn’t totally work for me as a romance. While it had it’s share of sweet moments, it was hard to buy. While you can’t blame it on “insta-love” because the characters have all known each other for a long time, it’s like an “insta-love” loophole. Like just by saying they’ve all known each other awhile is enough to make the suddenness of it ok. And the love triangle was weird – and I’m not including Theo in that triangle.

It also didn’t really work for me as a sci-fi mystery/suspense story. Trying to understand the Firebird in the beginning was confusing. The lengthy stop in Russia was basically pointless, other than to set up the odd love triangle (which still didn’t really have that much of a lasting impact on the overall story). Where it finally started to make sense was in the third dimension the trio stopped in where we got a lot more information. Even though by then I had some things pretty much figured out, I wanted to see how it was resolved.

Overall, A Thousand Pieces of You was ok, but a little disappointing. There were several times I got so bored I was going to DNF it, but because I had waited so long for it, I wanted to see it through. I found the overall idea intriguing, but the execution of it fell a little short for me. I think if the next book focuses more on the Firebird and Triad, it would be worth reading.

Rating (out of 5)

2 stars

Review: Alienated by Melissa Landers

Alienated (Alienated, #1)

Synopsis from Good Reads:

Two years ago, the aliens made contact. Now Cara Sweeney is going to be sharing a bathroom with one of them.

Handpicked to host the first-ever L’eihr exchange student, Cara thinks her future is set. Not only does she get a free ride to her dream college, she’ll have inside information about the mysterious L’eihrs that every journalist would kill for. Cara’s blog following is about to skyrocket.

Still, Cara isn’t sure what to think when she meets Aelyx. Humans and L’eihrs have nearly identical DNA, but cold, infuriatingly brilliant Aelyx couldn’t seem more alien. She’s certain about one thing, though: no human boy is this good-looking.
But when Cara’s classmates get swept up by anti-L’eihr paranoia, Midtown High School suddenly isn’t safe anymore. Threatening notes appear in Cara’s locker, and a police officer has to escort her and Aelyx to class.

Cara finds support in the last person she expected. She realizes that Aelyx isn’t just her only friend; she’s fallen hard for him. But Aelyx has been hiding the truth about the purpose of his exchange, and its potentially deadly consequences. Soon Cara will be in for the fight of her life—not just for herself and the boy she loves, but for the future of her planet.

PLOT

So two years ago a group of  aliens called L’eihr introduced themselves to Earth and gave them a cure to cancer, which saved the life of Cara’s mother. The Sweeney family are pretty pro-alien. Cara is picked to be part of an exchange program where she will host a L’eihr for the school year and the following year she will go to L’eihr. She’s initially not thrilled, even though her parents are, but comes around.

Aelyx is also not thrilled about going to Earth. Neither are his other two L’eihr transfer students. They make a plan to tank the exchange, but it will take time. During that time, Aelyx starts to change his mind because (surprise!!!) he and Cara start to fall for each other.

While the Sweeney’s are super psyched to have Aelyx, the rest of Earth is not so happy. A hate group is formed and pretty much everyone in Cara’s town joins. It eventually takes on the form of a terrorist group and things go crazy.

I thought the general plotline was good, but it just wasn’t fleshed out enough and never really reached it’s full potential. I would’ve liked more info about the L’eihrs (even from Aelyx we don’t get much information besides the basics) and more information about the “Patriot” group. The end went a little too far into the unbelievable for me, as well.

CHARACTERS

Cara and Aelyx were both pretty well developed and mostly likable characters. However, the rest of the characters were pretty bland. Since the story is told in third person POV, I wish we would’ve gotten the view of at least one more person besides of just the two of them. I would’ve liked Cara’s best friend, Tori’s, POV or even her valedictorian rival who headed up the student chapter of the hate group. There’s never really an excuse for so much hatred, but I would’ve liked to have the POV of at least one member to see what exactly they’re so afraid of. I also would’ve liked to see a few more people being pro-L’eihr. There was a small group in the beginning, but they quickly faded after the hate group got more vocal.

READABILITY

Landers writing wasn’t bad and the story was well-paced until it got towards the end. Things with the protest and riot went by really fast and wasn’t very detailed. Some of Cara’s parents’ actions weren’t very believable and some of the dialogue in the beginning was on the childish side. However, it was a quick read and there were several humorous moments that I enjoyed.

ENJOYABILITY

Overall, I enjoyed Alienated. It wasn’t as good as I was expecting and didn’t quite live up to it’s potential, but I’m interested to see what happens next and will be picking up the next book when it comes out.

Rating (out of 5)
Plot: 3
Characters: 3
Readability: 3.5
Enjoyability: 3.5
Overall Average: 3.25 stars

Spirit by Brigid Kemmerer – 3 stars (out of 5)

Spirit (Elemental, #3)

Synopsis from Good Reads:

With power comes enemies. Lots of them.

Hunter Garrity just wants to be left alone. He’s learned the hard way that his unusual abilities come at a price. And he can’t seem to afford any allies.

He’s up to his neck in hostiles. His grandfather, spoiling for a fight. The Merrick brothers, who think he ratted them out. Calla, the scheming psycho who wants to use him as bait.

Then there’s Kate Sullivan, the new girl at school. She’s not hostile. She’s bold. Funny. Hot. But she’s got an agenda, too.

With supposedly secret powers rippling to the surface everywhere around him, Hunter knows something ugly is about to go down. But finding out what means he’ll have to find someone he can trust…

RANDOM SPOILERY THOUGHTS

-The covers for this series…So bad. Why does Hunter look like he’s from the ’80s?

-The bromance lives! It goes through issues, but it survives. It’s the reason I gave this book 3 stars

-Michael Merrick is once again officially my favorite Merrick brother. He’s wise beyond his years. He’s sweet. He puts up with so much crap. I heart him.

-This book made me like Hunter way, way less. Gone is Confident Hunter and he’s replaced with Whiney, Confused Hunter. Seriously, he drove me nuts. The plot moved so slow and instead of actual events it was just page after page of Hunter trying to figure out what the right thing to do is and who he should trust. It got old real quick. He redeemed himself a little in the end, though.

-I could not stand Kate. At all. I was not sad at all when *SPOILER ALERT* she died. Her relationship with Hunter never made any sense to me. I understand their similar background, but she was horrible and used him from the start and he’s just so dumb about girls. I’m glad she won’t be around in the future.

-I missed all the Merricks, they were just occasionally around – except for Michael, which I appreciated. I think Layne had one line and Becca had just a couple. I think Kemmerer could do a better job of incorporating all the characters a little more, instead of just the main couple of each book.

-Overall, while still good, I did not enjoy Spirit as much as I did the other Elemental books. However, I would still recommend it to those that have started the series – and recommend the series to those who like YA sci-fi.

Runner by Patrick Lee – 4 stars (out of 5)

Runner

*I received a copy of this title from NetGalley. It does not impact my review*

Synopsis from Good Reads:

Sam Dryden, retired special forces, lives a quiet life in a small town on the coast of Southern California. While out on a run in the middle of the night, a young girl runs into him on the seaside boardwalk. Barefoot and terrified, she’s running from a group of heavily armed men with one clear goal—to kill the fleeing child. After Dryden helps her evade her pursuers, he learns that the eleven year old, for as long as she can remember, has been kept in a secret prison by forces within the government. But she doesn’t know much beyond her own name, Rachel. She only remembers the past two months of her life—and that she has a skill that makes her very dangerous to these men and the hidden men in charge.

Dryden, who lost his wife and young daughter in an accident five years ago, agrees to help her try to unravel her own past and make sense of it, to protect her from the people who are moving heaven and earth to find them both. Although Dryden is only one man, he’s a man with the extraordinary skills and experience—as a Ranger, a Delta, and five years doing off-the-book black ops with an elite team. But, as he slowly begins to discover, the highly trained paramilitary forces on their heels is the only part of the danger they must face. Will Rachel’s own unremembered past be the most deadly of them all?

I really enjoyed this book. The pace is fast and there’s a lot of action. I don’t usually like a lot of action, but Lee really made it work in Runner. Too often I feel like the author details it to death, to the point where it’s almost impossible to follow what’s actually happening. Here it was detailed without going overboard and it was all plausible. I also felt the pace was pretty perfect. It wasn’t just Go, Go, Go, but more like Go, Go, Go, Pause, Go, Go, Go, Pause, etc. The story moved along quickly, with lots of action, but it took time with quieter moments where there was character development and plot reveals.

The main character, Sam Dryden, is very likable. He’s a smart, caring, stand-up guy that always does the right thing. His experience in Special Forces makes him uniquely qualified to help Rachel escape her attackers and try to figure out the secrets that live in her head. Rachel was an intriguing character with lots of sides to her. My only complaint with her is that she almost always seemed much older than her eleven years.  Martin Gaul, the man leading the hunt for Rachel and Dryden, is another  interesting character – mostly despicable, but still a little sympathetic.

There were a lot of twists and turns in this book, perhaps the most surprising to me was that there is a large sci-fi element to the story. It’s not a bad surprise, I just didn’t expect it. Despite that, the story still seemed realistic in all its other aspects and contained enough surprises to keep me guessing the whole way.

While most chapters focused on Dryden, Rachel, or Gaul, there were other chapters that focused on Gaul’s competitor, Hager, and those he was training. While those chapters were interesting and informative, they also contained perhaps the only thing I didn’t care for in the book – the slightly graphic use of sex as motivation. Maybe it’s just a guy thing, but I didn’t quite see the need and it made me a little uncomfortable. However, since there were only a few examples of that, it didn’t really hinder my enjoyment of the rest of the story.

Overall, I really enjoyed Runner. It was suspenseful, fast paced, and action packed, but also smart and sweet. This looks to be the first book in a series based on Sam Dryden and I look forward to the next. I would recommend Runner to those who enjoy mystery, suspense, action, and a little dose of sci-fi.

*Runner will be available on February 18, 2014*

Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo – 4 stars (out of 5)

Shadow and Bone (The Grisha, #1)

Synopsis from Good Reads:

The Shadow Fold, a swathe of impenetrable darkness, crawling with monsters that feast on human flesh, is slowly destroying the once-great nation of Ravka.

Alina, a pale, lonely orphan, discovers a unique power that thrusts her into the lavish world of the kingdom’s magical elite—the Grisha. Could she be the key to unraveling the dark fabric of the Shadow Fold and setting Ravka free?

The Darkling, a creature of seductive charm and terrifying power, leader of the Grisha. If Alina is to fulfill her destiny, she must discover how to unlock her gift and face up to her dangerous attraction to him.

But what of Mal, Alina’s childhood best friend? As Alina contemplates her dazzling new future, why can’t she ever quite forget him?

MY THOUGHTS:

-This is another of those books that I thought didn’t look like anything I’d like, but I really ended up enjoying it. It reminded me a bit of the Shatter Me series and a bit of The Bone Season, while still being it’s own story.

-There was a list in the beginning of the book that listed the different kinds of Grisha – people with special powers. It didn’t really explain what they were, though, and there was little definition in the actual story. I would’ve liked a little more of an explanation to start with instead of just throwing out the terms and letting us eventually catch up.

-Alina was a well-developed and mostly likable character. The story was told through her 1st person POV, so I felt a good connection with her. I would’ve liked to have seen Mal – her best friend/love interest – a little more developed. And then there’s the Darkling. I wanted more, more, more of the Darkling. Not because I loved him, but I was intrigued by him. Like Alina, I could never really get a good read on him.

SPOILERS

-I was actually surprised when we find out that the Darkling is the bad guy – The Black Heretic. I know I shouldn’t have been. I mean, his name is Darkling. Like there was ever a chance that he’s the hero of the story. But even in his villainy, he’s still such an interesting and charismatic character. I’m still not completely convinced that he won’t be redeemed later in the series.

-I felt like Alina and Mal’s relationship was pretty predictable. They’ve been best friends since childhood and she’s in love with him. He obviously feels the same, but doesn’t realize it until after she’s gone. None of the revelations or happenings between them was at all a surprise. I still like them together, though. I’m always a sucker for the neglected best friend – even if in this instance it was the guy neglecting the girl.

END OF SPOILERS

-Overall, I really enjoyed Shadow and Bone – much more than I thought I would. Though there were a few slow parts, it was mostly well paced and always had me eager for the next chapter. I’ve already read the next book in the series, Siege and Storm, and really look forward to the conclusion coming out next year. I would recommend this book to all those interested in sci-fi/fantasy YA or those that enjoyed The Bone Season and Shatter Me.